Sky News – Interview with Peter on China, the Olympics, Cyber Attacks and Ukraine.


Subjects: Australia-China relationship; Beijing Olympics 2022; cyber-attack; Ukraine-Russia tensions

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Joining me now is Labor MP, member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Thanks for your time, Peter. Interesting hearing that analysis from Rob Potter. My advice as well is that there is no evidence in the official areas in Canberra at the moment that suggests that it was from China, this attack, but a reminder that these attacks can come from a number of different quarters, Peter.

PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: G’day Kieran, that’s right. These are deeply and highly concerning reports, they’ve been ongoing and they are from various sources, non-state actors, criminal enterprises, they could be state actors as well. A fair bit of it is a classified obviously in not revealing who that might be, if the government does know that. But it does highlight the need for really well-considered and strong laws around protecting our critical infrastructure, hardening our critical infrastructure right across the country because cyber security is really that front line now in combating any threats and interference and attempts to disrupt our economy, our society, our way of life and so critical infrastructure, protection of it, is really important and you mentioned the PJCIS we are looking at a number of laws in that space – security legislation amendments around critical infrastructure we’ve reviewed and made recommendations. These laws are really necessary. If I could just be partisan for a second Kieran and say Labor, for our part, we’ve been calling on the government to provide national ransomware strategy and policy since early this year because of the problem and the government has really failed to take action for a number of months. This is despite escalating attacks such as this one and others that we’ve seen. Australian business, critical infrastructure such as hospitals have all been hit so this is, I think, a critical national security issue and we need to get it right.

GILBERT: I know if we move to another part of this issue, I guess, relating to tensions with China, the diplomatic boycott now confirmed by the government, you called for one before Joe Biden announced his diplomatic boycott. I remember that a few weeks ago. You said we should undertake a diplomatic boycott. What were your reasons for that? Obviously, you support the government’s move here on that.

KHALIL: Yes, to both those questions. I did call for it a couple weeks ago. I must admit to the audience I didn’t call up President Biden – I didn’t suggest that to him – I think they came to that conclusion themselves. But my reasoning was, obviously with Peng Shuai, the case was a very high-profile case, it was in the media, but she is just one example that Chinese tennis player, she is just one example of thousands of Chinese citizens who have been disappeared: the human rights activists, political dissidents, journalists, academics, business people, ordinary Chinese citizens who have been critical of the government, basically disappearing and that’s not to mention the larger human rights abuses, the forced labour camps of the Uyghurs, human rights issues in Tibet, the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, the economic coercion at the international level with trade, the debt trap diplomacy in the region. I thought and maintained and made a very strong case that the international community, Australia and the international community, need to send a very strong message that that is unacceptable, and they should be, at the very least, entering into a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games, so I do support, and Labor has provided bipartisan support, for the government to do so.

GILBERT: What do you say to the argument that this might have been a time to help dial down the tension between the two nations and maybe seek to cool things down a bit by not following the US in this path?

KHALIL: Well, that’s an interesting point, because we have been making that argument to cool the temperature, to dial it down, whereas Scott Morrison and particularly his Minister for Defence, Peter Dutton, have been ramping up the rhetoric, and Peter Dutton likes to talk a big game when it comes to defending Taiwan. My question to him would be, what with Minister? When you’ve left us with a defence capability gap of 25 years, we’re going to be floating around almost 50-year-old Collins class boats, submarines by 2040 before we even get the first nuclear submarine. What are we going to be backing up that big talk with? So, there’s really not much walk, frankly, and when the time comes to actually take a diplomatic action that can put genuine substantive pressure on China and send a strong signal, the government has finally got to the right spot on the diplomatic boycott but they ‘um’d’ and ‘ah’d’ a fair bit, quite happy over the last couple of weeks to talk a big game around defending Taiwan and talking that up. But when it came to the real deal, when it came to joining the US, it took them, they finally got there but it took them a little bit of time to actually reach that point where they made the decision to join.

GILBERT: But given the reality of where we are, you know, with this sort of tit-for-tat behaviour, it’s more one way at the moment in terms of this economic coercion, that’s for sure. But given where we are, why wouldn’t a diplomatic sort of statecraft be, you know, you just sort of pull it back a bit, maybe not undertake such a boycott?

KHALIL: Well, you’re focusing in, Kieran, I mean, I agree with your substantive point, there should be a dialling down, there should be more diplomatic efforts made to try and repair the relationship. Get back to some sort of equilibrium. But I don’t agree that the issue around the diplomatic boycott of the Games is the place to dial down or step back, in fact, where the government should be stepping back is from the very heavy rhetoric, the strongmen rhetoric that we’ve seen from the minister for Defence around Taiwan and China over the last couple of weeks where he’s sort of dealing in hypotheticals, frankly, where he should be dialling that down and making sure that he – to paraphrase President Teddy Roosevelt – that he speaks softly but walks with a big stick. That’s what we should be doing. So, on the diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, look, I also don’t like sports and politics mixing, but there are certain lines in history where that has occurred. South Africa comes to mind. The apartheid regime and some of the sporting sanctions that occurred. Given the list of things I’ve just gone through, I think the international community has to stand collectively together to send a clear message to China that we are standing up for our values when it comes to human rights, political freedoms, the rule of law, a free press and freedom of expression and so on and do so together and I think the Olympics and this boycott is the right move.

GILBERT: Now to the other side of the world and those talks between Biden and Putin. How worried should we be about an invasion there in Ukraine, or is this this posturing and, you know, part of Putin’s message against further encroachment of NATO towards his borders?

KHALIL: Look, I think the key word in your question is ‘worry’, I think that is real. The worry is real because they have amassed, according to reports, almost one hundred and eighty thousand Russian troops along the border. There’s been a constant disruption and interference in the internal matters in Ukraine by Russia, and, of course, you know, six or seven years ago, 2014, with Russia taking over Crimea, it’s really interesting that Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser for President Biden, said the following words, he said: things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now. So, there’s a couple of things with that statement. One is it implied criticism of the Obama administration at the time, not taking tougher action against Putin and his takeover and invasion of Crimea, but also, I think, a very clear signal that the Biden administration is going to stand very firm and very strongly against any attempt by Russia to have troops go across the border in an invasion of Ukraine and so much so that I understand that President Biden and the US administration are talking about very significant economic responses. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. They haven’t explicitly said this, but that flows from Russia to Germany, may be switched off. Biden is working closely with European partners. This is important because we’re at this volatile period where authoritarian states, the strongmen of these autocratic states like Putin and Xi Jinping and so on, are stretching and taking advantage as much as they can. The West, the democratic nations, need to stand firm in their defence of a liberal rules-based order and against such very naked aggression, frankly, So I’m glad the Biden administration is taking a strong stance.

GILBERT: Peter Khalil, great to chat, as always. Thanks.

KHALIL: Thanks, Kieran.